Over time, I’ve developed certain thoughts relative to the management of the survey process, one of which relates to the ever-changing (maybe evolution, maybe mutation) regulatory survey process and I think it boils down to a couple of basic expectations (at least on my part):
- You always run the risk of having a surveyor disagree with any (and every) decision you’ve ever made relative to the operational management of risk, particularly as a function of standards-based compliance
- Your (or indeed any) Authority Having Jurisdiction always reserves the right to disagree with anything they, or anyone else, has ever told you was “okay” to put into place (and this includes plan review for new or renovated spaces)
Recent survey experiences are littered with the remains of practices and conditions that were never cited in the past, but in the latest go-round have become representative of a substandard approach to managing whatever risk might be in question. For example, just consider how the survey of the surgical environment has changed (and changed very rapidly, if you ask me) from what was typically a fairly non-impactful experience (there were any number of instances in which the Life Safety surveyor didn’t even dress out to go into the OR proper) to the area generating the top three most frequently cited standards during TJC surveys in 2014. That, my friends, is a whole lot of schwing in the survey process.
The bottom line message is, more or less, based on the adage “Future expectations are not necessarily indicative of past experiences.” You have to look at everything you are doing as a function of how your practices/conditions actually comply with the standards. Just as there are many ways to skin the proverbial catfish (skinning a catfish makes more sense to me in this modern era than skinning a feline), there are many ways to comply with what are typically rather open-ended compliance standards. As long as you can “trace” the practice or condition back to compliance with the standards/performance elements, then, even if you have a surveyor who disagrees with your approach to things, you can feel comfortable that you can “go to the mat” post-survey, using the clarification process to demonstrate how your organization achieves compliance relative to the finding. As a somewhat related aside, it is important to remember that you are only required to respond to what is actually written in the finding. Very often I run into folks who want to respond to more than what is actually in the report, usually because they remember what the surveyor “said” during the survey. Surveyors, like everyone, have opinions about how and what and where, etc., and they certainly have every right to hold those opinions (sometimes in higher regard than is warranted, but I digress). Opinions are rarely based on an absolute standards-based requirement. So, the tip-off comes in different forms: Maybe they say you “should” do something in a certain way or something similarly non-definitive. They typically stay away from things that you “must” or “have to” do. You “have to” comply with the standards and you “have to” comply with your organization’s policies and procedures, but beyond those points, you have to chart your course of compliance. You know best what will work to effectively ensure that you have an appropriately managed care environment (and, presumably, the performance data to back up that knowledge).